Social Media: Nine Expert Suggestions

People have all sorts of opinions about social media. Some think it’s destroying brain cells and relationships. A few believe it’s a conspiracy to control us.

I once thought so, too. Back in Russia, people made copies by tracing things on carbon paper into the nineties. My family didn’t own a phone for a part of my childhood. My first social media post was “Johnny is stupid,” scrawled into a neighbor’s door with a rusty nail, a bad idea in retrospect.

Even after immigrating to Silicon Valley, I didn’t fully catch on to the tech hype. Take this Social Media Savvy Quiz to see where you fit in.

But social media is increasingly important for just about any industry. It’s not only for students to post angry messages and incriminating pictures anymore. By not engaging, you’re missing out on potential customers, risking bad reputation and getting beat out by competitors.

In The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, Tamar Weinberg provides the simple “how” and “why” of social media. She defines it as “the sharing of information, experiences, and perspectives throughout community-oriented websites.”

It’s true. Consumers now have a voice, which can make or break your business. Take a blogger Dooce.com who, frustrated by her defunct Maytag washing machine and bad customer service, tweeted about it to her million plus followers. Just a few hours and thousands of blog comments later, appliance stores offered her machines. Finally, the headquarters got involved and fixed it. Forbes named her “one of the most influential women in media.”

Or take the feisty TheBlogess.com, recently called a “f%%ing b&%ch” by a PR agency. The ensuing ordeal caused an uproar among thousands of Blogess’s Twitter followers and created some bad reputation for the agency to reckon with.

Or Netlflix, which decided to hike fees and split services out of the blue, but remained unresponsive to subscriber outrage. The result? Nearly a million subscribers lost and shares down 70% since.

So, back to Weinberg: show you’re listening, become a sought-after authority in your field, and create dialogue for trusting, lasting relationships. Here is what she suggests:

1. Set goals. Figure out your objectives with social media. Know your audience.

2. Monitor your reputation. Use Twitter search, set up Google Alerts, scan Technorati.com for your mentions.

3. Start a blog. Oh, so many reasons. A blog shows you care about what others say about your product. A blog builds your reputation as a thought leader in your field. A blog enables conversation and steers it to your home turf. “If you’re not yet a blogger in your industry, someone else will seize the opportunity,” Weinberg says. Finally, it puts you higher in search results. Some how-to’s:

  • Include quizzes

    Uploaded to Flickr by alamodestuff

  • Add interactive videos or games
  • Break things up with pretty visuals
  • Use lists (easy to skim; valuable and often bookmarked)
  • Offer informative how-to articles and product reviews in your field
  • Feature expert or customer interviews
  • Set up competitions. Yes, with prizes!
  • Feature a regular column to create expectations
  • Reach out to other bloggers

4. Use Twitter. Twitter is quick and painless for reputation management, customer service, and finding new customers (by offering special deals only to followers, for instance). Recently, a classmate and I discussed a research database that was unavailable through our library, via Twitter. The next day, I got a personalized tweet from that database’s rep, offering help. Pretty awesome. She must have read this book.

5. Set up Facebook pages and LinkedIn groups. The Facebook page lets you offer incentives to fans and be searchable by public search engines. Plus, friends of fans will notice you, too.

6. Contribute to informational networks. Wikipedia helps you build reputation as an expert. Just don’t edit your own information due to conflict of interest, or else be banned and laughed at.

7. Bookmark socially. Networks like Delicious and StumbleUpon are shareable with friends and give you access to your favorite links from any computer. Plus, they show what’s trending, an invaluable tool for coming up with ideas.

8. Get a nose for news. Social news, like Reddit, Digg and others are a democratic way of voting on interesting news. Comments and submissions will build your credibility.

9. Use all sorts of media. Post pictures of your product and its happy users in appropriate Flickr groups. Create videos, a potential viral tool. Plus, videos humanize your brand, both on YouTube and your blog. Podcasts, too, help engage an audience.

Finally, instead of marketing your stuff online, become a valuable community member first. It may initially take up to three to four hours daily, Weinberg says. Before you get discouraged and whip out that typewriter by candlelight, Weinberg concedes that it’s impossible to be equally active in all these networks. And eventually it won’t take as long.

Tamar Weinberg has a blog, Techipedia, where she tackles social media marketing in detail.

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